On the Pulse

Mast Cells May Hold Key to Preventing Group B Strep Infection

Group B streptococcus. Credit: NIAID. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Mast cells. Few know that mast cells are the first responders of the immune system. Even fewer study their role in group B streptococcus, a widespread bacterial infection that can cause preterm birth, stillbirth or dangerous sepsis in infants.

Many women who have given birth will likely remember the group B strep screening in their third trimester.

“Group B strep is normally found in up to 30% of women, but because it doesn’t cause illness, we don’t think about it until there is a risk in pregnancy,” said Dr. Lakshmi Rajagopal, a principal investigator in the Center for Global Infectious Disease Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “In babies, the infection can lead to serious and deadly health consequences such as pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis.”

To ensure the infection is not transmitted to the baby, women testing positive for group B strep receive antibiotics during labor. However, no therapeutic strategies exist to prevent the incidence of systemic group B strep infection that can occur in babies before labor or after birth.

Rajagopal and Dr. Adrian Piliponsky, a principal investigator in the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies at Seattle Children’s, believe part of the answer to preventing group B strep may lie in mast cells. In a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the researchers reveal new insight into how mast cells defend against bacterial infections. Read full post »

Transforming Care for Children With High-Risk Leukemia

Dr. Todd Cooper leads Seattle Children’s High-Risk Leukemia Program.

Seattle Children’s is getting set to launch a program that will redefine how we care for children with “high-risk” leukemia – or leukemia that doesn’t respond well to standard treatments and/or has relapsed after therapy.

Unfortunately, less than 40% of children with high-risk leukemia will live for more than four years after they’re diagnosed. Our new High-Risk Leukemia Program aims to cure more of these children by uniting their doctors onto one team, and by using state-of-the-art diagnostic tests to match kids with the latest treatments and clinical trials. The program will also partner with researchers to pursue new treatments and cures.

The first-of-its-kind program is expected to attract patients and families from across the country, and it’s being led by Dr. Todd Cooper as part of his lifelong mission to improve care for children with high-risk leukemia. On the Pulse sat down with Cooper to learn about how the new program will transform care and bring new hope to children and families. Read full post »

Sounders FC Star Jordan Morris Inspires Kids With Type 1 Diabetes

Morris-diabetes_lead

Jordan Morris with Kylie (left) and Cameron Hendry (right). Cameron, like Morris, has type 1 diabetes.

Kids with type 1 diabetes are used to getting a lot of questions, from “What does that tube on your pump go to?” to “What happens when you don’t feel good?” The natural curiosity of their peers often serves as a reminder of the condition they must constantly stay on top of.

Recently, the tables were turned when Sounders FC star Jordan Morris joined a roomful of type 1 diabetes patients at Seattle Children’s Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center for a special Q&A.

Morris, who has risen through the ranks of youth, collegiate and professional soccer, can relate. He also has type 1 diabetes. So, in a rare afternoon off from fielding crosses on the soccer pitch, Morris volunteered to field questions from patients and their families about living and playing with the disease.

“When I was younger, I looked up to other professional athletes with diabetes who were doing what I wanted to do, and always thought ‘if they can do it, why can’t I?’” said Morris. “I love talking to the kids. I hope I can serve as that same inspiration to them.” Read full post »

In Quest to Diagnose Puzzling Stomach Ache, Family Turns to Clinical Trial

Isabella Wallis with her older brother and two older sisters.

As the youngest in her family, Isabella Wallis is always following in the footsteps of her older siblings. While it has its perks in helping her learn the ropes, getting to be the first in her family at anything is few and far between.

That was until the 9-year-old from Olympia, Washington, became the first patient to enroll in a first-of-its-kind clinical trial at Seattle Children’s.

“It’s exciting to be able to help other people and give them more information about why they are sick,” said Isabella, who enrolled in the Precision Diagnostics in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Cellular Therapy and Transplantation (PREDICT) trial after experiencing persistent inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms for more than six months.

When she didn’t feel well, Isabella, who had always been healthy and loved playing outside, would retreat to her bedroom, finding some comfort in watching reruns of her favorite show, The Simpsons, while lying down. But her upset stomach never went away.

Unclear what was causing Isabella’s illness or what treatment options may exist, her parents turned to Seattle Children’s at the advice of their pediatrician. Read full post »

Promising Drug Combination Silences the Rage of Graft-Versus-Host Disease

London Bowater fought for her life for nearly 180 days in the hospital when she developed severe GVHD after a cord blood transplant.

To pass the nearly 180 days she was a patient in Seattle Children’s Cancer Unit with graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), London Bowater took orders from her doctors, nurses and other patients and families for friendship bracelets that she would braid from her hospital bed.

While her handicraft would help fill the time between treatments, it did little to help ease the severe GVHD she developed after a cord blood transplant for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Her hair was falling out and her intestines were hemorrhaging blood, yet somehow my little ray of sunshine still managed to stay positive and touch all the amazing doctors and nurses with her kindness,” said Nicholas Bowater of his then 8-year-old daughter. “At one point the hemorrhaging was so bad, I melted.  I went into the empty room next door and lost it. I knew we would need a miracle.” Read full post »

A Month of Hope for the Gwilliam Family

Atticus Gwilliam was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2016.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. But What does ‘awareness’ really mean?

To become aware? To obtain new knowledge? To gain a new perspective? To become informed? To become concerned or even empathetic to an unfamiliar situation?

The concept of awareness can take on many faces, and its perception can change depending on the person you talk to. To the mother who spends her days at a children’s hospital, it’s a sense of defeat and desperation about the path that life has taken her. To the father who lost his son, a harrowing and solemn reminder of a fierce battle once fought. To the general social media patron, it may be a month of raw images that they don’t fully understand.

This was the crossroad we found ourselves in as we entered the doors at Seattle Children’s Hospital 12 long months ago. The world of childhood cancer was not something that was on my radar as a mother of three (with one on the way), let alone with regards to one of my own children. Read full post »

Wyatt’s Creativity Cruises Onto Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Race Car

The design 9-year-old cancer patient Wyatt Zender created for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 race car.

In just three days, 9-year-old Wyatt Zender and his family will see his artwork come to life on the Chicagoland Speedway.

Wyatt, a cancer patient at Seattle Children’s, was the lucky winner of a coloring contest presented by Great Clips to design the paint scheme for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Great Clips Strong Against Cancer Chevrolet SS, which Kahne will drive at the first playoff race of the NASCAR Cup Series, The Tales of the Turtles 400, on Sept. 17.

“Our family is so excited to see Wyatt’s colorful design speed down the racetrack,” said Wyatt’s mom, Heather Zender. “This has been a great opportunity to give Wyatt the chance to do something fun and share his story as well.”

Read full post »

3-D Simulation Before Difficult Surgery Helps Erin Breathe on Her Own

Dr. Kaalan Johnson leads his team through a surgical simulation

Erin McCloskey, 11, has been a regular at Seattle Children’s her entire life. First diagnosed with a rare heart defect, a genetic specialist at Seattle Children’s later discovered she had fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP). FOP is a complex condition that turns tissue, ligaments and tendons into bone that is outside the typical skeletal structure. Eventually, a person’s joints lose their mobility and it can cause breathing, movement and eating difficulties.

In August, Erin’s mother, Suzanne, sat with her in her hospital room as she did almost every minute of every day since April. Erin’s bed was stacked with stuffed animals and cards sent from members of the online FOP community who showered her and her family with support.

Read full post »

Stepping Out of the Shadow of Cancer

This August, my kids and I were among the millions of people watching the solar eclipse with awe. At the apex, in that moment of relative cold and darkness, I tried to lighten the mood with a bad mom joke: “It must be hard for the sun to feel so powerless today, huh?”

But rather than laugh or roll his eyes, my 10-year-old son replied with innocent wisdom.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he said. “It will pass. All shadows do.”

He’s right. One thing I’ve learned from working with families facing childhood and adolescent cancer is that the shadow of cancer – that loss of control, that fear, that stress – does eventually lift. In fact, the history of human experience includes a myriad of examples of overcoming adversity. Think of the wars, natural disasters and other serious illnesses humans constantly encounter. In general, we recover, and ultimately learn from the experiences.

How do we do it? The answer is “resilience” and it is what I study. Allow me to share some of what I have learned through my conversations with patients and families. Read full post »

Teen’s Determination After Brain Tumor Surgery Takes Her to Harvard

Liesel Von Imhof, 18, doing one of her favorite activities – cross-country skiing.

Liesel Von Imhof, 18, came to Seattle Children’s from her home in Anchorage after learning the reason for her migraines: a ping-pong ball–sized tumor in the middle of her brain. In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, here she shares her journey of diligently working to achieve her goals despite recovering from brain tumor surgery during her senior year of high school.

How long does it take to recover from brain surgery? What does “recovery” really mean? Would I be the same as before, or to what degree would I be different? These were the many questions swirling around in my mind on July 12, 2016, when I sat next to my pale-faced mother in the hospital as we learned I had a brain tumor. I was diagnosed with a Pilocytic Astrocytoma tumor in the third ventricle of my brain.

With this diagnosis, I was soon on a journey of self-discovery to learn just how much grit and determination I really had. Whether I liked it or not, I was going to have to go through two brain surgeries. My life depended on it.

I gripped the thin hospital bed and prepared myself for the ride. Read full post »